Bad Astronomy

Remnants of a violent past

Will I ever get tired of these satellite images of volcanoes?

No. No, I won’t.

That’s Krakatau, or Krakatoa, an active volcano in Indonesia (click the pic to pyroclastinate). If the name is familiar, then you may remember that this particular hill decided to throw something of a hissy fit in 1883. In fact in four separate monstrous explosions the volcano detonated with the energetic yield of about 200 megatons of TNT – several times the energy of the most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested. The explosions tore the island apart, and killed tens of thousands of people. It threw so much ash in the atmosphere that the global average temperature dropped over a degree.

As a solution to global warming it leaves something to be desired.

NASA, understandably, keeps an eye on Krakatau, and in this image by the Earth Observing-1 satellite you can see the ash plume blowing to the north (I rotated the image 90° to make it fit better here). The volcanic island you see here is new; it’s been building up since the 1883 event, and is roughly 2 km (1.2 miles) across. It’s hard to imagine that this beautiful and serene island was the epicenter of one of the most massive explosions in modern history, but there you go. But then, we don’t need to imagine it, when we have the science to hand us the data.

NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team.

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- Tourist gets dramatic volcano plume snapshot
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- Montserrat volcanic dome collapse seen from space